2011 Season Forecast: Chicago White Sox

Last Five Seasons:

2010:  88 – 74
2009:  79 – 83
2008:  89 – 74
2007:  72 – 90
2006:  90 – 72

The White Sox have been competitive for much of the last six or seven years, 2007 notwithstanding.

Runs Scored: 752 (7th in the AL)
Runs Allowed: 704 ( 8th in the AL)

With this combination, the White Sox would be expected to win 86 games or so – right about where they finished.

Season Recap:

At the beginning of the season, many expected the White Sox to contend with the Twins for the AL Central crown, and they contended until the last few days of the season.

The Sox actually got off to kind of a slow start, having losing records in April and May.  At one point, the Sox were eight games under .500 and threatening to finish in last place at 24 – 33 after a loss to Detroit.  However, the Sox got SCORCHING HOT, winning eleven in a row and fifteen of sixteen to sprint back into the race.  (Of course, they played the Cubs, Pirates, Nationals, and Braves for that stretch, losing only a 1 – 0 game to Ted Lilly and the Cubs which likely saved Lou Piniella’s job.)  Another nine game winning streak got the Sox to 50 – 39, at which point people started to think playoffs.

Once they had to face teams in their division, however, the Sox fell back.  Only one more hot streak – a seven game winning streak in the beginning of September – kept them alive.  Then, facing the Twins and Tigers, the Sox lost eight in a row (the last two to Oakland), and they were done.  The Twins beat the Sox 13 times, the difference between first and second place.

During the season, the Sox acquired two players, trading Daniel Hudson and David Holmberg to Arizona for Edwin Jackson and claiming Manny Ramirez from the Dodgers after he had been waived.  Neither player figured heavily in the team’s fortunes down the stretch.  Jackson pitched reasonably well in his eleven starts; Manny – not so much, but only batted 69 times.
Starters:

The Sox have a LOT of quality starting pitching.  John Danks was fantastic – 213 innings and saving his team 24 runs over that span.  Mark Buehrle did what he always does, throws strikes, eats innings, and wins games.  Gavin Floyd was saddled with a losing record but, like Buehrle is an above average pitcher with a record of durability.  Jake Peavy was expected to be the ace, but he suffered a significant tear in a muscle behind his throwing shoulder and hopes to be back for much of the 2011 season after having an experimental surgery to repair it.  Last year’s #5, Freddy Garcia, was surprisingly effective in 28 starts but won’t be back because Edwin Jackson is about the best fifth starter you can possibly imagine.  37 wins in the last three years, a no-hitter last year, and a power arm.  It’s hard to find a better overall rotation outside of Philadelphia anywhere.

Relievers:

Bobby Jenks and his 4.44 ERA is no longer the closer, having moved on to Boston.  And, J.J. Putz, the former set up man, is a closer in Arizona.  Don’t worry about the Pale Hose, though, because the rest of the bullpen is as good as the rotation.  Chris Sale was impressive in 23.1 innings, striking out 32 batters and allowing just 15 hits – and becomes the new closer.  His late season dominance allowed Jenks, who was losing his effectiveness, to leave town.  Scott Thornton has been a solid reliever for a couple of years now and becomes the lock down set up man.  Sergio Santos was effective, Jesse Crain and Will Ohman have been imported to provide middle inning support options, and Tony Pena can do the job as a swing man or long reliever.

Catching:

The Sox have a decent tandem in A.J. Pierzynski and Ramon Castro.  Pierzynski is starting to show signs of age, but is still reasonably effective.  Castro is a good enough hitter to warrant more playing time if needed.  As a defensive unit, the two were above average in five categories (ERA, Winning Percentage, Caught Stealing, Mistakes per Game, and Fielding Percentage on plays other than strikeouts), and below average only in mobility categories.

Infield:

Both offensively and defensively, you had two positions working in the Sox favor, and two working the other way.  Paul Konerko remains a sturdy bat in the middle of the lineup, but defensively he and his 2010 backup, Mark Kotsay, are well below average.  At second base, Gordon Beckham, you had the opposite.  Beckham has decent enough defensive skills, but didn’t hold his own with the bat in 2010, unlike what he suggested was possible in 2009.  At short, Alexei Ramirez was solid offensively despite a rather low OBP because he hit for power and had a reasonably good batting average.  And, defensively, he played at a gold glove level.  Then you have the hole at third, where Mark Teahan had an off year and couldn’t stay healthy either – costing the team runs with the glove and bat.  The person who played the most at third was the elder statesman, Omar Vizquel, who looked very out of place defensively and hit like Paul Bako with even less power.

Arriving to help the cause is Brent Morel, a third round pick in 2008 out of Cal Poly, who has shown a plus bat and some power.  In AA and AAA, he hit 10 – 60 – .322 and earned a 21 game tryout with the Sox in September.  If Morel can hold his own at the position and hit .280 with a dozen homers, this would be a significant step up for the Sox over what played there in 2010.

Outfield:

Alex Rios came over from Toronto, played center extremely well, and put a lot of runs on the board – his best season since signing that huge contract a few years ago.  Juan Pierre remains the left fielder – though Mighty Casey can’t explain it.  For a guy who is supposed to be fast, he’s NOT a plus range fielder, and unless he’s hitting .320, he’s a waste of at bats.  In right, Carlos Quentin was so bad defensively that he offset whatever benefits having Rios and Pierre in center and left may have provided.  His power is still around, but he misses a lot games (much less pitches).  I think the Sox will miss Andruw Jones, who can’t really cover any ground but hit 19 homers in essentially a half season of at bats.  Alejando De Aza is the new fourth outfielder, a guy I used to root for in Florida, and is running out of chances to stick.  He can play a little.

DH:

Last year, there was a rotation of hitters, none who will be anywhere as good as the newly signed free agent, Adam Dunn.  Dunn is an offensive force, and gives the team depth at left or first base, too.  (He can’t field them, but he can certainly hit enough so that you won’t notice too much.)

Down on the Farm:

Brett Morel we covered…  Behind him on the AAA depth chart is 3B-1B candidate Dayan Viciedo, a 22-year-old Cuban kid with serious power and upside and didn’t disappoint when given a shot with the parent club in 2010.  If Paul Konerko starts to get old, Viciedo could step in and be a quality first baseman for more than a decade.  Pitcher Daniel Hudson looked to be close to ready, but was sent to Arizona for Edwin Jackson at the trade deadline.  Hudson looked like he could be as good as Jackson, but Arizona is rebuilding while the White Sox are merely retooling.

At AA Birmingham, first baseman Jimmy Gallagher had a season that looks like something on the back of Mark Grace’s baseball card, but may not have a future here unless it’s as a pinch hitter.  The pitcher who stands out, to me anyway, is reliever Deunte Heath, who fanned 84 in 57.2 innings, but may have issues harnessing his control.  Anthony Carter also had a decent season in relief.

A guy who seems to have the team’s eye is Gregory Infante, who converted from a starter to a reliever and blew through A+ Winston-Salem and then Birmingham.  69Ks in 60 innings, didn’t allow a single homer (just 12 in 291 minor league innings), and for a really young kid out of Caracas, Venezuela, he may get a shot at closing in AAA.  A guy you may read about in 2011 could be Justin Greene, a centerfielder with speed and power who also blew through A+ and landed at AA.  Dylan Axelrod had a 1.99 ERA in Winston-Salem, earning a promotion to AA, and things are finally starting to click for him.  Working against him is the fact that he’s a late round pick originally drafted by San Diego, and the Sox having a lot of starters at the big league level who aren’t going away anytime soon.

2011 Forecast:

I’m feeling a bit optimistic about the Sox, mostly because Dunn and Morel could quickly address the two biggest weaknesses they have.  You have the potential regression of Pierzinski, Konerko, Pierre, Rios, and Quentin, weighed against the potential of gaining 80 or more offensive runs with Morel and Dunn.  The pitching staff will be equally solid and could be marginally better – and would be really good if there weren’t two holes on the same side of the field (Konerko, Quentin).  Still – a full season of Morel at third should help the overall defense, too.  I like getting Jenks out of the closer role, and the Sox pen is still very, very good.  I like the White Sox scoring 825 runs and allowing barely 700, which puts the sox at 95 wins.  I also think the Sox could win the World Series, another shot across the bow at Cub fans who continue to wait for a miracle that won’t arrive until they figure out how to manage resources.

Working against the Sox is the idea that Jake Peavy’s shoulder may explode at any moment, and Ozzie Guillen imploding after another irrational outburst at his general manager, who has assembled quite the roster.  Ozzie – sit back and enjoy the ride to the playoffs.

2010 – Top AL Pitchers

Just as a recap, here’s what I am trying to do:

1) I start with the number of runs allowed by each pitcher, and the number of innings that guy pitched.

2) I modify the number of runs allowed to account for any bias based on the pitcher’s home park.

3) I modify the number of runs allowed based on my defensive rating system for teams and players because if you have Seattle’s team defense behind you, you are less likely to allow a run than if you had the Royals defense behind you.

Top 10 Starters:

Runs    Inn    Pitcher
34.1    173.2    Clay Buchholz (BOS)
29.7    249.2    Felix Hernandez (SEA)
26.5    208.0    Jon Lester (BOS)
26.2    237.2    C.C Sabathia (NYY)
25.8    200.2    Gio Gonzalez (OAK)

25.8    196.2    Trevor Cahill (OAK)
24.0    213.0    John Danks (CHI)
23.5    130.2    Brian Dunsing (MIN)
22.5    224.1    Jered Weaver (LAA)
19.4    191.2    Francisco Liriano (MIN)

I was surprised that Buchholz saved more runs, but he also had a remarkable ERA pitching in Fenway.  Like #3 Jon Lester.  Brian Duensing made 13 starts when Minnesota needed them, and his overall contributions were also impressive.  Not sure if he has a 200 inning season in him, but at this rate, he would have led the league in runs saved.  Among the returners from last year, Fernandez, Lester, and Sabathia…

Top 10 Relievers:

Runs    Inn    Pitcher
20.4    65.2    Joakim Soria (KC)
20.0    74.1    Daniel Bard (BOS)
17.6    60.1    Joaquin Benoit (TEX)
16.7    63.0    Chris Perez (CLE)
16.4    49.0    Andrew Bailey (OAK)

15.8    60.0    Mariano Rivera (NYY)
15.7    62.0    Darren O’Day (TEX)
14.6    41.2    Alexi Ogando (TEX)
14.3    60.2    Matt Thornton (CWS)
13.7    62.1    Rafael Soriano (TB)

Three Rangers in the top ten – which helps explain how they controlled the division if the offense could just get a lead through five or six innings.  This is the second year I have made the list – and Bailey, Rivera, O’Day, and Thornton all returned to the list.

Bottom 10 Pitchers:

Runs    Inn    Pitcher
-56.5     203.1    James Shields (TB)
-56.3     109.1    Ryan Rowland-Smith (SEA)
-35.8     150.0    Scott Kazmir (LAA)
-32.0    171.0    Jeremy Bonderman (DET)
-28.5    141.1    Scott Feldman (TEX)

-24.9    186.2    A.J. Burnett (NYY)
-23.1    161.0    Brian Bannister (KC)
-20.9    127.2    Josh Beckett (BOS)
-19.7     79.2    David Huff (CLE)
-19.4    161.0    Nick Blackburn (MIN)

Shields cleared 50 because he pitched 200 innings, had a solid defense behind him, and kept serving up homers.  The Rays stuck with him all season and will be giving him another shot in 2011.  I don’t think he’ll be this bad…  The worst pitcher, though, was Rowland-Smith.  He pitched just 109 innings, so essentially he gave up a run more than the average pitcher every other inning.  Ouch.

Do Boston Teammates Call Buchholz “I-95”? Nationals Lose Olsen

Boston has a luxury that most teams don’t have – they have too much pitching…  Well, too much to stock at the major league level.  Tim Wakefield is going to rest his sore back on the DL for a couple of weeks – and the Red Sox get to call up Clay Buchholz.  Buchholz is a certified ready starter; he threw a no-hitter in 2007 and while he wasn’t stellar in 2008, he’s been dependable when needed in 2009.  Clay will get three more starts in Wakefield’s stead.  And then what?  Another trip to AAA?  It doesn’t seem fair (to Buchholz, that is) – and no trade with Boston will likely happen unless Buchholz or Daniel Bard is included.  And yet he sits in Pawtucket – #3 starter without a slot.  [ESPN]

Wakefield’s former teammate, Manny Ramirez, was hit on the top of his hand by a pitch and was removed from the game.  X-rays were negative, but the Dodger left fielder will be day-to-day. [ESPN]

White Sox starter John Danks will miss a start with blistering and a circulatory problem in a finger on his throwing hand.  Chicago hopes a DL stint will not be necessary.  [ESPN]

To deal with the Danks loss, the White Sox sent Aaron Poreda back to AAA Charlotte and recalled Carlos Torres from Charlotte.  Torres has decent stuff – gets strikeouts but occasionally fights his control.  In Charlotte, he has 96Ks in 98 innings, and just three homers allowed – very few hits, too.  He looks like he could peak as a #3 starter if given a shot, but there aren’t a lot of slots on the White Sox right now.  In 2010, Torres could fight for that fifth starter role.

As if the Nationals need more bad news, starter Scott Olsen will be out the rest of the season following surgery to repair his labrum in his throwing shoulder.  Olsen made only eleven starts for Washington this year.  [SI]

The Giants recalled Ryan Sadowski to make a start against Atlanta last night.  Sadowski hasn’t been half bad in four starts with San Francisco, and the Florida native has skills.  He missed two seasons in the minors with injuries, but has been a solid pitcher when healthy.  He could stand to improve his control, though…  The Giants are another team with a good amount of pitching.  Meanwhile, Scott Downs replaced Kevin Frandsen on the roster, swapping infield roles.  Finally, utility infielder Rich Aurilia went on the DL with an infected big toe.  [SI]

Welcome Back!  Seattle’s Mike Sweeney is back from the DL.  For now, anyway.  Colorado activated Ryan Speier from the DL.  Gaby Sanchez returns to the Marlins – he was pegged to be a starter in spring training but blew that shot.  Hopefully he’s ready this time.

Is it Over?  The Yankees designated Brett Tomko for assignment when recalling Sergio Mitre.  I didn’t even notice that Tomko had a job.  Tomko throws hard, but has been very hittable for about five years now.

Afterthoughts…  MLB is now using DNA testing and bone scans, when allowed, to test Latin American player (particularly those from the Dominican Republic) because of issues with kids (a) not being who they thought they were, and (b) lying about their age.